Instructional Decision-Making Before Reading During/After Reading Letter/Word Work Reading/Writing Connections

“If children are apparently unable to learn, we should assume that we have as yet not found the right way to teach them.”

Marie Clay

How to Use the Guided Reading for Struggling Readers Module

For over twenty-five years, teachers across the United States have used Guided Reading to assist millions of young children on the path to becoming proficient, independent readers.  The basics of Guided Reading – how it fits into an overall balanced literacy program, its theory and practical approaches, including taking and using running records – were explored in the first Guided Reading module on this website.  The sample lessons in that module are organized by bands of text levels, with a focus on the appropriate texts, prompting, word work and writing for each band.  It also deals with classroom organization for guided reading, as well as lesson structure.   We suggest that teachers who are not familiar with Guided Reading use the initial module before this one.


Many children learn to read quickly and easily, but, as every primary teacher knows, others struggle.  Most children who find learning to read difficult have no physiological impediments, and with expert support, can learn to read in grades K-2.  However, reading is a complex process, and there is not one straight path to success.  Children may face many confusions in becoming readers in these beginning years, (Pinnell and Fountas, 2009) including:

  • Initial difficulties in learning to distinguish letters and sounds, understanding that print carries a message, remembering what they read, focusing on print, and moving through it left to right
  • Insufficient sight vocabulary
  • Limited ability to problem solve, using the same 1-2 strategies even when they don’t work
  • Ignoring language structure and meaning or relying solely on meaning and ignoring print
  • Not monitoring their own reading
  • Waiting for help or stopping rather than actively working to solve problems
  • Lacking fluency to support holding meaning


Approximately twenty percent of beginning first graders may require expert intervention to overcome these and other difficulties, some on a 1-1 basis.  But with or without intervention, all struggling readers need strong classroom teaching in reading and writing every day.  This module discusses ways to help children in small Guided Reading groups overcome the obstacles they face.  It specifically addresses how observation-based instructional decision-making during the various aspects of a Guided Reading lesson is used to advance the progress of struggling readers.


The success of Guided Reading is not found in following a scripted lesson, but on following the child.  By this we mean closely observing the child’s reading behaviors, analyzing what we see and hear, and providing the clearest way forward based on our professional understanding of the reading process and the child’s strengths and needs.  Success, therefore, heavily rests on the teacher’s observations, analysis, and responses to children’s reading and writing.


This cycle of observe and record, plan, teach, observe… is embedded in every action we take in Guided Reading, and is discussed in each section of this module.  Each section includes commentary by teachers and other experts, illustrated through excerpts of lessons taught with small groups and/or individual children who struggle at various reading levels in kindergarten through second grade.  The sections are:

  • Instructional Decision-MakingWe recommend beginning with this section and returning to it as needed.   It examines running records and in addition to analyzing the sources of information (meaning, structure, and visual) used and neglected by the child, it provides a framework to help teachers extract additional information helpful in choosing texts and developing lessons for struggling readers.
  • Before Reading considers how our observations lead us to find an appropriate book for students’ needs and create a book introduction that supports struggling readers. It addresses adjusting book choice based on our observations of the students.
  • During/After Reading explores taking notes and running records during reading and using this information to provide prompts and group teaching points, and to guide next steps in teaching. It focuses on differentiating prompting for each student, attending to the language of prompting, and levels of support to develop independent problem solving, fluency, and comprehension. Because serial order and automaticity with high frequency words are usually difficulties for struggling readers, we also provide guidance in dealing with these issues.
  • Letter/Word Work addresses specific difficulties struggling readers may have in learning about letters, sounds, and high frequency words, and making connections between targeted word work and reading and writing text.
  • Reading/Writing Connections emphasizes the reciprocity between reading and writing, and the importance of this connection for struggling readers and writers.


Although a typical guided reading lesson includes each of the above areas, well-designed lessons have a focus that carries through all the segments.  This is especially important for struggling readers, who benefit from learning the same skill or strategy in multiple ways.  Therefore, approaches to supporting children with concerns such as high frequency words, serial order, fluency, and overall problem solving are addressed in multiple sections, with links to other parts of the module where these issues are discussed.


Running records and close observation are essential to accelerate the progress of struggling readers.  Therefore, in addition to examples of learning from running records in individual video clips, several series of clips focus on how running records, lesson notes, and observation helped teachers understand the strengths and needs of struggling readers over time, develop instruction accordingly, and/or seek additional intervention if required.  These include:


One of the purposes of the Clemson University Reading Recovery and Early Literacy Training Center for South Carolina is to share the expertise that Reading Recovery teachers develop through close observation and work with individual struggling readers every day.  We would like to acknowledge the contributions to this module of the following:

  • Elizabeth Arnold, Reading Recovery/Intervention Teacher, Hodges Elementary School, Greenwood School District 50
  • Katie Babb, Reading Recovery/Intervention Teacher, Springfield Elementary School, Greenwood School District 50
  • Emily Garrett, Reading Recovery/Intervention Teacher, Springfield Elementary School, Greenwood School District 50
  • Tracie McGovern, Kindergarten Teacher, Springfield Elementary School, Greenwood School District 50
  • Andrea Overton, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Anderson School District 5
  • Ashinique Owens, Reading Recovery/Intervention Teacher, Nevitt Forest Elementary School, Anderson School District 5


Pinnell, G.S. and I.C. Fountas. 2009. When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.